Monday, November 28, 2011

The Greatest Fear of the Outsider: Religious Guys

Conversion implies a 'to-what' to which there are those who already belong.

I was seventeen-years-old when I did something which had profound implications for my life from then to now: I called a church.

Now, in some sense my adhesion to the Body of Christ was a conversion from one thing to another, one system of belief to another, but that's only in some sense. It was just as much a switch from nothing to something. Whatever the case, I had had enough Protestantism in my family background to have been aware that religious people are not always average Joes. On my mother's side are ministers of various stamp - Pentecostals and Baptists, of the most fundamental bent, some of whom I have met, most of whom I have only heard tell. But it was enough.

When my phone call translated into a visit to the local parish the thought of meeting 'religious people' was on my mind. And when I met that first nun, a sixty-something-year-old, with only the most nondescript habit, the eventuality was still not eventuated. It would need to come later, I supposed - once they had me on the hook?

It wouldn't have changed my mind, meeting the silliest of religious fanatic. I had not come to make that call for 'human' reasons, such as finding a 'nice place with nice people in it'. Truth was truth, and I determined that the Catholic Church was Jesus' Church. Donatism was never my default position. Besides, I had read the Gospels - Judases were part of the playing field.

But theological conviction does not annul social awkwardness. And nothing makes for awkward like a religious fanatic.

This is a post for 'outsiders.' I'd like you to eventually arrive at my theological conviction that the Church is the Church even with Judases in our midst, but if your 'human' reasons are keeping you from looking into Catholicism any closer, I am writing this to encourage you not to let the thought of religious weirdos keep you from doing so.

What is a religious weirdo? It is not necessarily someone whose every thought is God, God, God. You can be insane and do that; you can be a saint and do that. No, rather, it is someone who believes he speaks for God. God has many kinds of spokesmen. There are those who a just plainly egomaniacal: those who cannot distinguish between their own mind and God's, much like a three-year-old cannot. Those are the worst ones; sometimes they are plainly dangerous; certainly they are always boorish. Then, there are those who have bought so fully into something like the 'Medjugorje Encyclopaedia' - or perhaps even the Summa, or Chesterton, papal encyclicals, or St. Faustina's diary, or charismatic-type prayer, etc., that they insist that you too find in them, in exactly the same way they have, all the answers to all of life's questions. These ones are often boorish, but hardly ever dangerous.

Then there are lower-level annoying religious people. These are the huggers and the perpetually 'up.'

And now, a momentary digression on Catholic hugging. It's new, it's young, it's happening, it's something I avoid like the plague. The last thing from which I could draw benefit is another women's breast pressed up against me. I mean, I am not everyman, yet the logic strikes me as sound. People have assured me that there is a proper way to hug  - and breasts are not involved in it. I remain unconvinced.
Chances are, if you join the Church, you are going to get hugged.

But, it is a small price to pay for eternal salvation, all things considered.

Becoming Catholic is joining a body. The people are not incidental to it. Of course, no one person is essential to it, that is, other than Christ. So, do not become Catholic if you cannot stand people. We have enough of that type here already.

As I have said many times - I have met the best people and the worst people as a consequence of that phone call I made to St. Thomas More Church in 1991. I am a pretty straight-talking guy: serious Catholics are on average way better than others. Such is the Grace of Christ mediated through the sacraments.


  1. I grew up in the charismatic movement where side-hugs prevailed. I still take them as signs of great affection. But, relax, I will never hug you. Good post.

  2. I am much more at home with the frigid handshake. ;)


  3. I am very at home with limited handshakes even. It's one of the reason's why I love St. Patrick's Basilica. The main reason of course though would be that they still have the kneeler rail when receiving communion.